Charleroi

At 50 km from Brussels and 100 km from Lille, in the province of Hainaut, Charleroi is the largest city in Wallonia, and is Belgium's third largest city. Gateway to the Ardennes, Charleroi was once the capital of the Black Country, which specialised in the production of coal, steel and glass. Today the capital of the comic book is a cosmopolitan place, full of history and Art Nouveau treasures.

Classicism and Art Nouveau go well together, as you'll see on the façade of the Hotel de Ville and Belfry in Charleroi. Designed by architects Joseph André and Jules Cézar, its Unesco-listed belfry is 70 metres (230 feet) tall. Listen out for the bells: every hour the 47 bells of the carillon sound the tune of the song "Pays de Charleroi, c'est toi que je préfère " (Charleroi country, you're my favourite"). In its sumptuous interior the Hôtel de Ville houses the Jules Desrée Museum and the Charleroi Museum of Fine Arts, where you'll see Magritte left his mark on the city.

A ten minute walk away, the Museum of Photography in Mont-sur-Marchienne is one of the most important in Europe. Discover this exceptional testimony to the history of photography through the ages.

You'll find the fascinating collections of both the Museum of Glass and the Museum of Industry on the Bois du Cazier site in Marcinelle, which is where the mining disaster of 1956 happened. Get to the heart of Charleroi's industrial past with a visit to one of these museums in Charleroi.

The city hosts several festivals, including the OpenFields Festival, which combines electronic music and an appreciation of nature, with 40-odd open air concerts.

Charleroi is of course the city of the bande dessinée, or comic strip, and it was publisher Depuis who launched some of Belgium's most famous 2-dimensional characters: Spirou, the Smurfs, Cédric, Kid Paddle, Buck Danny and Largo Winch, to name but a few. These characters make up part of the city's cultural landscape, and in fact you may see Spirou and Fantasio, Lucky Luke, Boulle and Bill popping up all over the city, larger than life, as statues. Children and adults will enjoy seeking out these creations, and if you are ever lost, just ask which way the statue of Marsupilami and you'll find yourself back in the city centre.

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